Rice community mourns loss of Tony Gorry

Business school professor, former VP joined faculty in 1976

Longtime Rice faculty member and former vice president G. Anthony “Tony” Gorry died Sunday after a long battle with cancer. He was 67.

A member of the National Academy of Medicine, Gorry was a beloved teacher and mentor, prolific writer and nationally recognized scholar in management, medicine and computer science.

Tony Gorry

Tony Gorry

Gorry retired in 2016 and was the Friedkin Professor Emeritus of Management at Rice’s Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business. Prior to his retirement, he was a professor of computer science in the George R. Brown School of Engineering, director of Rice’s Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning, co-founding director of the W. M. Keck Center for Computational Biology, a former vice president for information technology at both Rice and Baylor College of Medicine and a member of the Baylor neuroscience faculty for more than 40 years.

“The mere mention of Tony’s name always elicited joyful responses from all who knew him,” said Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business. “He made everyone feel valued and important and will be deeply missed.”

An accomplished manager and administrator, Gorry simultaneously led Rice’s programs for research, graduate studies and information technology while also teaching courses in computer science in the 1990s. Dozens of his written works were published, including scholarly articles in areas as diverse as organizational management, artificial intelligence, education, applied mathematics, clinical decision-making and the societal implications of technology. Gorry also published fictional short stories and nonfiction memoirs, including 2017’s “Memory’s Encouragement.”

“I found that writing the book brought my past more to life in the present,” Gorry told Rice News. “I hope readers will see in my stories the power of the past to strengthen one in difficult times.”

Kathleen Matthews, Rice’s Stewart Memorial Professor of Biosciences, who knew Gorry for nearly 30 years and chaired the search committee that brought him to Rice in 1992, said Gorry was never confined by expectations.

“If you confine yourself by the idea that you are supposed to do this or that, then you’re not thinking creatively,” Matthews said. “Tony was always thinking creatively. It was one of my favorite things about him. Not long after I met him, he said something that I have never forgotten: ‘Don’t think about the next system. Think about the system after that.’

“It was a brilliant way of thinking. It was nonlinear, and it allowed Tony and the organizations that he led and worked with to leapfrog and stay ahead of the crowd,” she said. “I think this view also enabled him personally to see the present more clearly and think creatively toward the future.”

Gorry earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Yale University in 1962, a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley in 1963 and a doctorate in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1967. He joined MIT’s faculty the same year and taught both computer science and management prior to moving to Houston in 1975 to become vice president for information technology at Baylor, where he was a member of the faculty in both medical informatics and neuroscience. He joined Rice’s faculty in 1976 at the invitation of Ken Kennedy, who asked Gorry to teach a course on artificial intelligence.

At Baylor, Gorry amassed a significant body of research on decision analysis, clinical decision-making and the design of computer programs that could make decisions as well as expert clinicians. In 1991 this work led to his election to the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine).

Gorry moved from Baylor to Rice in 1992 and became Rice’s first vice president for information technology in 1995, a post he held for five years before becoming the Friedkin Chair at the Jones School to devote more time to teaching and research.

Matthews said Gorry’s penchant for intellectual exploration was a hallmark of his character. She recalled how he responded to being placed into isolation when treatment for his leukemia compromised his immune system.

“That’s a very tough thing to go through,” Matthews said. “You’re sick, and you’re alone and you’re in isolation. But Tony decided to read the classical Greek authors in their native language. That’s the kind of person he was. His presence among us will be deeply missed, but his quintessential example will endure.”

A celebration of Gorry’s life is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Nov. 16 at the Cohen House. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Leukemia And Lymphoma Society.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.